By iDEAL Hospitality Partners Group Founder & CEO Jill Dean Rigsbee
I have no problem telling my age, but the running joke is, “I started in the hospitality business when I was 7 years old”. Well, here’s the math, the path, and the life story.
In 1982, I was 18 years old and pretty upset about my past, unsure about my present and worried about my future. You see, it’s a long story, but now at age 58, I appreciate my life journey more than I used to. I’m at peace with my past, content with my present, and building my future.
How I came to have a lifelong career in the hospitality business starts before I was born, I believe, from my father.
My Dad’s name was Jack, and I’m Jill. I was going to be named Tamara, but there was a last-minute change to Jill– oh the jokes I’ve heard about my name… “Jack and Jill went up a hill!” Sometimes I tell people, “My Dad’s name was Jack…” – and the story I told about him seemed so sad, probably because I was sad and angry for a long time. And now…that has finally shifted to a much more upbeat and perspective-minded story.
My Dad is someone I only knew about from others, and his presence was something I always felt in my life. My son is the spitting image of my Dad, by the way, so I feel like a got some of my Dad through him.
Dad built a radio transmitter as a teenager in his house, around 1956, to broadcast to his neighbors in the small town of Crossville, TN. He became the popular local DJ at the one radio station in town, married the pretty girl at school (my Mom, Juanita) and took a job as the radio station manager in Toccoa, GA when he was 25 years old. One very early morning, he was late awakening to go to work and broadcast on air, my mom rustled him and tried to wake him up, but he had passed away. He was 26 years old, and died of a pulmonary aneurysm, a complication from rheumatic fever as a child. My mom was 19 years old, and I was a 10-month-old baby. My mom says it was the only morning I didn’t cry to be removed from my crib.
My dad’s personality was usually described by those that knew him best to me in three words: funny, popular, friendly. Someone once said to me when I was about 13 years old, “Jill, he was so hospitable. He never met a stranger welcomed everyone at any time and could entertain and dance like no one I’ve ever seen, and everyone felt comfortable around him”. “Hospitable”. I had never heard that word before used to describe my Dad’s personality, and I thought it was a strange word to use. I looked it up in the Websters Dictionary. Today, I think the way this lady described him is a pretty good description of being hospitable.
I am sometimes funny, popular at times, and I hope I am friendly. “Hospitable” may be the thing that made me a chip off my Dad’s block. I like to think so. I share this story, because I want to recognize all the good he gave me and I feel like a hospitable nature comes from within your personality. It’s not something you can teach. I’m not the sad and angry child anymore that felt cheated by not having my Dad around. I’m grateful and proud to be his daughter and it’s not cliche, I feel him in my heart everyday..
My career in the hotel business began in the hometown of my Dad and family – Crossville, TN at timeshare resort. After working there for a bit over a year, many of us went as a team to open a resort for the company in Virginia and we all lived onsite at a Holiday Inn that owned the property we were building timeshare units on for 2 about months.
One year later, I got my first job at a traditional hotel – in accounting, of all things. I was responsible for city ledger and folio billing. I hated and loved it all at the same time. The accounting work was not my thing, but the staff was like a family, and I loved the comradery and fun we had together.
A new, beautiful hotel was opening in Williamsburg and the brand was new and exciting! I got a job there as a Sales Manager and knew without a doubt that I had found my career path in life. 8 months into the job, the hotel was sold, and a new management company came in and to my surprise, they kept me onboard and gave me a big boost in pay because they said my salary was lower than market value. Thank you! I had no idea that was the case, but I was grateful! A year later, I took my first Director of Sales position at a well-known hotel in Richmond, VA I was 24 years old and looking back, I was way too young to be responsible for 6 associates.
I spent 14 years working in various hotels in the sales department (Holiday Inns, Marriott, Omni, Hilton, Sheraton) but, was intrigued by other aspects of the business after meeting a lot of people in the industry. I wanted to to try have a family life and not work in a 24/7 business, but I loved the industry. The hotel supplier side of lodging became a primary interest. I was intrigued by the cool hotel products and services and thought….” I can do that”.
A major room operations product supply company was expanding in North Carolina and hiring for a Territory Manager. So, with a little luck, major convincing and experience, I landed the job in 1996 and I was truly grateful! Product business development to hotels and management companies became my opportunity. Yes, I was doing sales and that was my job for 6 years, but really, I was developing friendships and relationships, which felt like family to me.
I was building a family in hospitality out of need – I needed that family in my life.
In 2002, I joined a groundbreaking hospitality group purchasing organization. The Field Support and Customer Relations team that was just forming I was responsible for optimizing purchasing at 400 hotels and within a couple of years, yes…. you guessed it, I moved to sales. I was the Director of Business Development, and with 1100 supplier contracts, it took a while, but I learned a great deal about all aspects of purchasing throughout the entire hotel, in every department. The company supported me through my breast cancer journey and the way I learned I had a dry-eye medical condition was on the plane back home from my going away party. My eyes burned so bad from crying happy and sad tears, I had to go straight to the eye doctor in an Uber when I landed. I was excited and nervous about the next phase in my life.
I took the entrepreneurship leap in 2018, and iDEAL Hospitality Partners Group was born (under another name).
Pivoting became a way of life at iDEAL. I have had so many industry colleagues, peers, mentors, pioneers, trailblazers, and geniuses help me along the way. And my family and friends…. they believe in me the way I know my Dad would have. I owe them so much for guiding me, listening, cheerleading me on and providing straight shooter talk and telling me “No” when I needed to hear it. I have found myself literally jumping for joy, and on the floor crying the same day. I have sacrificed sleep, income, time, relationships to make iDEAL be the leading advisory group for suppliers to navigate the complex world of sales in the hospitality ecosystem. It’s a passion I can’t shake and now my pivots are much smaller in nature.
I have recently realized that this hospitality career chose ME. Looking back on 40 years, I realize it has gone by slow and fast all at the same time.
2023 for us at iDEAL Hospitality Partners Group is all about happiness, balance, prosperity, and wisdom.
Happy new year everyone. Thank you, Dad.